Conservatives in the House GOP conference are showing their strength in the race to find a replacement for outgoing House Speaker John Boehner.
Meeting in person with all three candidates for the Speakership—Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz and former Florida House Speaker Rep. Daniel Webster—four powerful conservative groups banded together to demand reforms.
The House Freedom Caucus, Conservative Opportunity Society, House Liberty Caucus and House Tea Party Caucus heard speeches from McCarthy, Chaffetz and Webster—then grilled them each with follow-up questions—at the Capitol Hill Club.
“I’m very grateful that we have a coalition of conservatives coming here tonight to have a discussion with the candidates for Speaker,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society, told reporters outside before the meeting.
It’s a closed-door discussion, but it’s an open discussion where we can get down to the root of things we need to be working on. I think there will be two or three big things that will come out of this—I think it will be the level of strategy that the three candidates bring to restoring Constitutional authority of the Congress itself, Article I authority. That has been diminished and eroded by assaults on our power by the president and his threats to shut the government down. That piece on how this government should function—no longer top down, but bottom up. Third thing is where would each of the candidates go on immigration. Amnesty is a big part of this and I would like to hear a pledge that this Congress would not go down the line on amnesty. Those things—and I’m very grateful that the conservatives would come together with their voice. Now we need to see which one of these candidates that we’re willing to support.
King, when asked by Breitbart News how he thinks the race for Speaker will go, said he’s not sure. The House GOP conference will meet on Thursday to elect a nominee for the Speakership in the Oct. 29 elections on the House floor. To win the nomination of the conference, candidates need just a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote—which is 125 members—but to win the Speakership in the Oct. 29 election they will need to find 218 votes on the floor. That’s a tricky process, and a tough road for any of the three Speakership candidates or anyone else who emerge out of chaos.
“If I had a crystal ball on that, it might not be the wisest for me to actually say what I see,” King said at the pre-event press conference.
But I will say this, each of the candidates has something to offer. Kevin McCarthy has demonstrated his ability as a Whip to count votes and his ability as a Leader. He understands how this House works and he understands the interaction between the House, the Senate and the White House to the extent that interaction with the White House actually does work. If you look at Jason Chaffetz, he has been willing to challenge the executive branch. He’s shown energy as chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee. He has put his mark there. Dan Webster, as a former Speaker of the House in Florida has demonstrated what he has done as a Speaker. He’s got that experience. He too sees how this House has functioned. So, each one of them has their strengths and we want to hear some more details from them and hopefully we will hear something that is clearly inspiring to get us behind a single candidate. That would be nice but I couldn’t guarantee it.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), the chairman of the House Tea Party caucus, told reporters before the meeting that he thinks “these are historic times” for the United States Congress and that there’s a real opportunity for Republicans to do some good with these leadership elections.
“We are looking forward to the discussion,” Huelskamp said.
We are looking for specifics. We don’t just represent 60 congressional districts across the country. I believe we represent—the questions we will ask will represent 60 percent of Republicans. I think that the Washingtonian Republicans have betrayed them and betrayed the American people. We had big victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and these are the types of questions we should have asked our leadership candidates back after those elections. These are historic times, momentous times and [there are] great opportunities to find out what’s the plan for putting our party back together and actually doing a good job of what we campaigned on for three election cycles.
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Justin Amash (R-MI)—the chairmen of the House Freedom Caucus and House Liberty Caucus respectively—didn’t speak to reporters before or after the event.
But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), an outspoken conservative who’s a member of the Liberty Caucus and an outspoken critic of leadership and is supporting Webster for the Speakership, told reporters outside the venue that he believes there needs to be substantive structural reforms for anyone to win the Speakership.
“I don’t think anybody can get to 218 based on policy promises or anything like that,” Massie said.
If you look at the motion to vacate, there’s eight grievances in there that are articulated. They’re not about policy. None of them are about the debt. They’re about restoring the process in this institution. That’s why I’m backing Daniel Webster. He’s the only one standing up. He did it before in Florida and he promises to do it here.
Massie said that Webster “gets it” and the other two candidates—McCarthy and Chaffetz—are echoing Webster’s calls for reforms now, but that’s just empty rhetoric in his view.
“I think the other two candidates are starting to use his phrases and his sort of language and I’m not sure they’re committed to actually changing the process,” Massie said.
These crises, like the Sept. 30 crisis, that’s a condition of our leadership’s making. They’ve created another crisis on Dec. 11 intentionally so that when we go in there and vote we have to either fund the government or don’t fund the government. We should be passing appropriations bills.
When asked by Breitbart News before he went inside what reforms he would like to see, Massie said he would like to see Boehner’s promise that members would be able to read legislation before voting for it and an end to retaliation that Boehner and his leadership team have carried out.
“Let’s start by following through on Speaker Boehner’s promise to give us three days to read a bill,” Massie said.
The American public can understand that. I think there are other institutional changes that need to be made. Somebody shouldn’t be kicked from a committee simply for not creating enough money over here to the NRCC. That’s extortion, basically, and that’s what’s going on over there. We need to change things in the Steering Committee, for instance. That’s the committee that appoints people to their committees and ostensibly would kick somebody off of their committees.
On that note, too, Massie said he doesn’t believe that Chaffetz—who kicked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the conservative who put forward the motion to vacate the chair which ultimately led to Boehner’s ouster as Speaker, off a subcommittee chairmanship as retaliation against Meadows on Boehner’s behalf—is going to get conservative support. Chaffetz ultimately reversed the decision to retaliate against Meadows amid a near-revolt from GOP members of the Oversight Committee like Massie.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of conservatives rally around Jason Chaffetz,” Massie said.
I serve on the Oversight Committee and I serve on Mark Meadows’ subcommittee that he was booted off of for taking a vote of conscience on the floor. That was done by Chairman Chaffetz. That was in recent history and that hasn’t been forgotten. The other thing is he’s doing some legislation—he’s the sponsor of the Internet tax, for instance. Anybody that’s making their vote based on ideology is going to vote for somebody who’s promising to bring an Internet tax. But I don’t think that’s how you win this race. There are not enough things you can promise to conservatives and to moderates to get to 218. You have to promise to change the process.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) told reporters that he wants to see principles the GOP conference can unite behind for whoever is going to be elected Speaker.
“I don’t buy into the narrative of conservatives versus liberals and all the names, et cetera,” Brat said. “I just think we need to unite around principles and the first person that can articulate those principles that can get the majority vote is who we should be voting for.”
When asked by Breitbart News what principles he’d like to see, Brat said he wants to see the GOP return to its key promises. He’s worried, too, that Boehner’s decision to rush into a vote for his replacement—again, the vote in conference is happening on Thursday—has halted progress on such reforms.
“I ran on the Republican creed—we have six principles: free markets, equal treatment under the law, strong defense, adherence to the Constitution, faith in God, et cetera. Those are the six in Virginia,” Brat said.
Add to that the process principles—the Hastert Rule, funding, making sure people aren’t cut off and they’re not threatened and kicked off committees—all those issues need to be solved in these meetings tonight. If we can just get there—the whole conference was in agreement on that. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the date was set so premature for this Thursday. The conference was making progress. And that progress came to a standstill because of the vote being decided this Thursday.
He cited Boehner’s own Pledge to America—which hasn’t been followed—as something the new House leadership should follow.
“Our leadership put on paper the Pledge To America a few years ago,” Brat said.
Those are some great principles. I’m in favor of the principles that we ran on. The question is whether we will govern on those same principles that we pledged and we have not on President Obama’s unconstitutional overreach. It started with amnesty—I came in last November, leadership said we’re going to fight ‘tooth and nail’ on that one. The Iran deal, executive overreach, Dodd-Frank, EPA overreach, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The American people are fed up. The small business people can’t stay in business. More banks are going out of business, more small businesses are going out of business. It’s a failure and the American people want to see a strong response and I hope that’s what we’re going to hear in here tonight.
House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-AL), who was outside the Capitol Hill Club after the meeting, said he expects McCarthy may make some of these reforms if he is elected Speaker. But, more importantly, Sessions—the chief referee of the conference as the Rules chairman—backed the four conservative groups of members in their efforts to press leadership candidates on these matters.
“The bottom line is we are going to have a chance to come together as a conference and decide and every one of these conservative groups are asking great and leading edge questions,” Sessions said. “It’s going to determine our future. I did not coach Kevin. I have not talked to him about it. But I will tell you that he has a clear understanding because we’ve spent time talking about the rules, regular order, the concepts, what we do…so we’ll see what he does.”
Pete Sessions said that after several years of Boehner, he’s glad things are going to be changing.
“The times have indicated that we are after something. John [Boehner], as you know, has strong attributes in lots of areas, the longer we did those things, the conference [believed] change is necessary,” Sessions said. “And it’s necessary the management change accordingly.”
Sessions recommended that the next Speaker and leadership team empower committee chairmen to better manage the conference, rather than doing everything in the Speaker’s office.
“I would definitely like to see out of the next Speaker a strong and willing desire to recognize that committee chairman carry the bulk of the relationships and have a handle on the issues,” Sessions said. “And that we need them to develop strategic and tactical plans and they need to be put into a process to where we’re dealing with a lot of 80 percent issues that are out there. An 80 percent issue the American people strongly identify with, our members strongly identify with and we lastly, that we do what we said we’d do.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a longtime conservative, told Breitbart News outside that he’s worried that McCarthy may not make any real concessions to conservatives.
“I don’t know,” Gohmert said when asked if McCarthy would make these concessions. “Conservatives just want a conference that follows the rules and quits changing the rules any time it’s convenient.”
Not everyone was convinced post-meeting who they would support. King, afterwards, said when asked by reporters who he’s backing that he hasn’t made any decisions yet.
“I haven’t made an announcement,” King said. “I haven’t made a decision either. I want to watch this thing and see whether it goes for the next day and a half or so.”
King did say he hasn’t gotten clear answers on immigration—and whether any of the candidates would promise to bring no amnesty bills to the floor—from any of the candidates, and didn’t on Tuesday evening.
Since King was one of those presiding over the meeting, he told Breitbart News, “it was difficult for me to put myself in a position of asking those point blank question so I didn’t get those answered in the fashion I would have preferred.”
Brat wouldn’t commit yet either.
I mean we just want to not only hear – and this is just in general not to that issue – we want more than just to hear affirmations, we want almost in writing how can we for sure trust that whoever takes charge in a Speaker will follow through on what they’re saying,” Brat said when asked by Breitbart News about Chaffetz stripping Meadows’ subcommittee chairmanship. “So we’re looking for whoever can offer that strong strong, message.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)—who held up for reporters a copy of Breitbart News senior editor Peter Schweizer’s book Extortion, noting that it’s “how Congress works”—said that “no decision has been made tonight.”
“Mr. McCarthy spoke, then Daniel Webster spoke and now Jason [Chaffetz] is speaking,” Jones told reporters on his way out of the meeting. “I think it was very helpful for those of us who are conservatives to be able to ask questions and to listen to their answers. Obviously, I’m supporting Dan Webster—I feel like he did really well.”
Jones said he doesn’t believe that this matter should be finished in the conference, but rather on the floor of the House for the world to see on Oct. 29.
“Personally, I hope this will be resolved on the floor of the House—not in the conference,” Jones said. “Because I think the American people have a right to see and to understand why we vote a certain way. Now, I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not but since you asked me the question that’s my answer.”
Jones said as of Tuesday evening that no candidate of the three could get 218 votes on the House floor.
Probably no tonight,” Jones said when a reporter asked if any of them can get 218 votes in a floor vote. “I don’t know what the next week or two will bring. When we go home for the break next week, I think you will see a lot of the conservative talk show hosts throughout this country will start to engage into who they think might the best person to lead the House of Representatives. Now whether that will have any influence or not, who knows until the time comes?
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), another conservative who was in the meeting, told reporters he has similar expectations.
Farenthold, when asked by Breitbart News if he’s backing anyone yet, said he hasn’t made a decision.
That’s why I’m coming to these sessions,” Farenthold said. “We’ve got one in conference coming up tomorrow—going to the bitter end. We want to get the best person in as speaker. It’s something I’m praying on, and a lot of other members are praying on. I don’t want to speak for other people but I really do think this is a turning point in our country and we really do have an opportunity to change the direction with some good leadership in the House of Representatives.
He said it’s up to the conference’s nominee to win the 218 votes to become Speaker, and whoever gets the nomination is going to have to convince GOP members to vote for him.
“Whoever gets nominated by the conference has got to have the leadership skills to pull together 218 to support him,” Farenthold said after the meeting. “He’s got to be able to do it or he is not going to be able to be a good leader. If he can’t get 218 for himself it’s going to be a problem. I’m looking for a leader to convince me to able to support him on the floor. I think all three are capable of doing it, but they’ve got to rise to the occasion.”
Farenthold said he plans to take the conference’s nominee to his constituents before the House floor vote and ask them whether he should vote for the nominee or not.
“Listen, I’m going to go home after we pick somebody in conference—and I have 18 town hall meetings over the period of a week,” Farenthold said. “Kevin’s going to have to do a good job on radio and television or wherever he is to convince the folks that I’m going to be hearing from that I need to be behind him. But I think every candidate is going to face that challenge as well.”
Farenthold won’t rush into it and plans to withhold judgment until his constituents have a say.
“This is an important decision—you’ve got to listen to what everybody has to say,” Farenthold said. “This was a great opportunity to get the conservatives together and get the questions we have as conservatives answered by the candidates—and I have to say they all did a good job.”